I received an email message yesterday that I forwarded to a new graduate teaching assistant as a good message to discuss with her students as they begin their Writing for Business course. What makes it especially promising discussion material, I think, is that the message is neither good nor bad, or it’s both, or, depending on the reader, it could be one or the other. So it provides a wide open space for students to weigh in with their judgments and the reasons behind them.
The message was a no-reply message from Jack@anyandalltextbooks.com (a fictitious version of the real name), and its subject line was “Can I swing by Wednesday, Professor?” The first words of the message were the line “I’ll be on campus!,” centered and in big, bold, italic letters.
Then came the following:
My name is Jack and I’m part of a start-up whose entire purpose is to help students afford to get a college education. You probably recognize me, as I work with many faculty at the University of Cincinnati who have that as a priority. I’m a local!
I DO work with textbooks, but this is totally different from the other book buyers you’ve had drop by your office. I have a huge database that allows me to buy books from as far back as the 1950’s. Faculty members appreciate that I can help them de-clutter their offices while putting textbooks back in the hands of students that could use them.
Types of books I can send to a student:
– Old editions
– New editions
– Instructor (and annotated) copies
Let me know if you’d like to see if you have any books a student could use! I’ll be on campus this Wednesday.
Feel free to respond or even call/text if you would like me to come by quickly. My cell number is 555-523-5523 [not the real number].
|I know some faculty choose to hang on to all of their books and never sell—if that’s you, I’m so sorry for reaching out! I’m just trying as hard as I can to help students. Click the Unsubscribe button below and I’ll make sure I don’t email you again.|
Below that were a large graphic I couldn’t interpret (something like a pink lopsided donut), Jack’s (still with no last name given) address, and an unsubscribe link.
Here are just a few of the many questions you could ask about this message:
–What do you think of the writer’s using just his first name? What might be good about it? What might be bad?
–What do you think about the inclusion of the tagline at the top and the graphic at the bottom? Does this enhance or detract from the message’s persuasive appeal?
–What kind of persona/ethos is the writer trying to project here? Is it effective, in your view?
–What kind of relationship is he trying to establish with the reader? Does he succeed? Is it appropriate?
–What features of this message might tempt a professor to sell his/her textbooks to this person? What might lead a professor to reject the request in the message?
–If you were revising the message, what parts would you leave the same? What parts would you revise and why?
This activity can help sensitize students to the importance of adapting to the audience, creating an effective ethos, and building credibility. If used during the persuasive-message unit of the course, it can help students think about what makes appeals persuasive. But however you use it, it will get students analyzing, thinking, and using their judgment, and realizing that they need well-thought-out reasons for the decisions they’ll make as communicators. Helping them create this habit of mind is probably the most valuable legacy we can leave them with.
We hope your term is off to a great start!